Today, from self-watering flower pots to cars that warn each other about possible brake failures, software is frequently baked into the design of everyday consumer products. Although such software is protected by copyright, just as the law does not interfere with an individual’s rights to lend or mark up a copyrighted work like a book, copyright restrictions should not prevent individuals from re-selling, repairing, or modifying their software-enabled devices. “The mere addition of software to a consumer product should not provide an opportunity to reduce consumer rights”–as stated by OTI and Public Knowledge in comments submitted to the Copyright Office this past month.
In the comments, OTI and PK caution against misapplications of copyright law, and explain that owners of software-enabled products own “copies” of the embedded software contain by the products. As such, product owners do not need licenses from the rightsholder in order to use these copies as they please. OTI and PK further note that “unnecessary confusion between licenses and contracts, and what it means for a consumer to own a copy of a copyrighted work (distinct from owning copyrights in a work), has made the status of user rights generally unclear with embedded software devices, and software products generally.” Nonetheless, software copyrights, shrink-wrapped user licenses, and other non-negotiated terms of agreements for software products must not erect barriers to competition and innovation, or whittle away ownership rights for the “Internet of Things.”